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Existing buildings offer churches an economical alternative

Lifepoint Church in Virgina chooses the “big box” approach to expansion.

By Bryan Miles

The approach to construction called the “big box” — purchasing and renovating an existing building to meet a church’s expansion plans — was a passing thought five years ago that now 
is a highly viable option, with more boxes available than ever.

Many retailers of national and global scale are shedding properties nationwide, and in most cases, because of current economic conditions, are highly cost-effective. Cogun is seeing a dramatic increase in its services that are more renovation-oriented, and we expect this trend will continue until inventory levels of commercial space evens out.

In anticipation of this growing field, last year we held what we called a “Deep-Dive” event where prospective church clients could come for three hours and ask questions, and probe more deeply into options and alternatives beyond the traditional new building opportunities. We shared ideas to consider that were tied to going after and looking for former retail or commercial spaces.

Pitfalls to avoid

Just as important, we also addressed the common pitfalls we see when a church works to tackle this effort. The churches involved focused on non-denominational, community churches, or churches that were really centered on finding lost people for Jesus as opposed to catering to “insiders.”

One of the churches at last year’s Big Box Deep Dive was Lifepoint Church at Fredericksburg, VA, which is working with Cogun on the design and planning of a new facility for its growing ministry. In just five years, Lifepoint has grown from around 50 people to now around 1,000 people who attend two weekly worship services. Since Lifepoint was established in 2005, the church has been meeting in temporary facilities and currently meets in Riverbend High School in Fredericksburg. In 2008, church leaders realized they needed to address their growth as a church and secure their own “home.”

With many big box buildings sitting vacant and for sale at reduced prices, greater square footage, and no expense of developing raw land, the church decided this was their best option. Together we will work on site selection, building analysis, design coordination, and project funding which will all lead to helping the church build its new ministry space.

“Working with Lifepoint has been a fulfilling experience and we have not even built anything for the church yet,” says Matt Robertson, project consultant for Cogun. “We recently had the opportunity to spend several days on site with the church to better understand its DNA. The church has obviously seen exponential growth which could be a potential threat for a young organization like Lifepoint. Yet the leadership is well grounded, their pastors serve with humility, and the church truly understands who they are and why they exist; to reach people who are far from God and help them discover His design for their lives.”

Transform lives

The new facility will have worship space for 900, and will include space to house the children, middle school and high school ministries. For a church already impacting its community, building a larger and more permanent home will continue to help Lifepoint transform lives.

Lifepoint is still looking at what kind of big box facility will work for them. But spaces are often available from retailers and developers, like the 120,000-square-foot Wal-Mart buildings to the 35,000-square-foot former Circuit City buildings to former auto sales dealerships to former movie theaters to bowling alleys.

There is an abundance of possible opportunities for the American church in today’s market, and the key is finding the right one that matches a church’s DNA and growth strategy.

Matt Robertson says that there is more than worship space at stake. “We are seeing worship space of anywhere from 900 to 1,200 seats, where the church knows from day one they will be in multiple services. But they are also thinking about appropriately sized kid spaces, administration, foyer and hub space, and more, all created to match the brand of the church and tell the stories of life change that is happening in the congregation.

Community concerns

There is some push back from communities on churches in commercially-zoned areas because it will mean no tax revenue for that local government, but that can be overcome. Besides governmental hurdles, there are signage, parking and sound issues to address that often fall outside the normal scope of a building permit application and acquisition process.

And to be sure, no architect ever designed a Wal-Mart space with a second use in mind, so HVAC systems, parking, side-wall heights and the like need to be seriously considered by qualified professionals before an in depth offer is made to purchase the building.

Buying a building is as much art and it is science, and dollars spent on due diligence is a very wise move. The story of redeeming a building can parallel the life restored by a personal relationship and faith placed in Jesus. Churches can leverage this unique story when they go the route of the big box renovation.

Bryan Miles is vice president of consulting, Cogun Inc., 
North Lima, OH.  www.cogun.com

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What church chooses ‘big box’ solution?

A church that is attracted to the “big box” solution is a church that sees ownership differently and wants to remain agile long-term with its growth strategy. These churches don’t want to build and develop one large asset in one part of town. They want multi-site, in most cases, and are staff-led and elder-guided. These churches are serious about creating programming that is relevant for all age-group ministries, and are highly passionate about finding lost people for Jesus as their predominant focus.   —BM

Other box projects done by Cogun Inc.

  • Elevation Church, Charlotte, NC
  • Rock Bridge Community Church, Dalton, GA
  • Athens Church, Athens, GA
  • Living Word Christian Center, Tuskegee, AL

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‘Big box’ possibilities

  • Grade schools
  • Middle schools
  • High schools
  • Movie theaters
  • Large restaurants
  • Shopping malls
  • Big box stores
  • Corporate offices
  • Manufacturing plants
  • Car dealerships

Source: Brian Kluth [ www.MAXIMUMgenerosity.org ]

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